Ovarian Cancer: Everything you must know
Dr. Kavitha Jain

Dr. Kavitha Jain

Mar 26Cancer

Ovarian Cancer: Everything you must know

This article has been compiled by Vaibhavi Kodnani, a content writer at Proactive For Her.

Ovaries are female reproductive organs that secrete the female hormones and release an egg every month for fertilisation. There are two ovaries present in a woman’s body. Uncontrolled growth of cells in one or both ovaries causes ovarian cancer.


Like other cancers such as breast or cervical cancer, ovarian cancer has no definite causes, symptoms, screening methods or preventive measures. Hence, most women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer at later stages. Fortunately, the chances of recovering from ovarian cancer are high even at the advanced stage.


Types of ovarian cancer

There are various types of ovarian cancer based on the cell of origin :

  • Epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC): It is the most common type of ovarian cancer. It originates in the tissue covering the ovary. This type commonly affects women above 35 years of age.
  • Germ cell tumour: It is a cancer of the germ cells that produce the eggs in women. It is a rare type of ovarian cancer, and it usually affects teenage girls and young women.
  • Stromal cell tumours: In this rare type, cancer begins in the hormone-producing cells of the stroma.


Causes of ovarian cancer

There is no particular cause or risk factor for ovarian cancer that has been identified yet. A combination of the below-mentioned points could lead to the development of ovarian cancer :

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Never given birth
  • Late pregnancy (after 35 years of age)
  • Hormone replacement therapy for menopause
  • Undergoing fertility treatment
  • Genetic mutations (BRCA gene)
  • Family history of breast and ovarian cancers
  • Breast cancer at a young age


Symptoms of ovarian cancer

There are no specific signs and symptoms that can help in detecting ovarian cancer. The symptoms are common and may be suggestive of other diseases as well. It is the main reason why women often ignore them, leading to further development of the disease. But if you notice any of these signs, make sure to visit your doctor without any delay :

  • Abdominal pain
  • Swelling and bloating in the abdominal area
  • A large mass in the abdomen
  • Early satiety
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Backache
  • Fatigue
  • Altered menstrual cycles
  • Breathing difficulty

Diagnosis of ovarian cancer

Diagnosis for ovarian cancer involves a combination of three investigations - clinical examination, imaging (mainly CT scan) and tumour markers (CA 125, AFP, HCG).

  1. Clinical examination: The doctor will first examine to check for any mass or fluid in the abdomen. If the fluid is present, the doctor will collect it for further evaluation. If there is a mass, then a biopsy is done to confirm if it is cancerous. Imaging: Imaging (CT Scan) helps in understanding the stage of ovarian cancer. It also helps the doctor in determining the appropriate treatment required for it.
  2. Tumour marker tests: These are diagnostic tests to decide upon a treatment plan. Cancer antigen 125 or CA 125 is one such test used to diagnose and monitor ovarian cancer. Alpha Fetoprotein (AFP) and Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) are tumour markers produced by germ cell tumours.
  3. Treatments of ovarian cancer: The doctor will be able to discuss the treatment options with you after the complete diagnosis. The treatments depend on the type and spread as well as the stage of ovarian cancer. It is usually a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Novel treatments also include target therapies. If you experience any side-effects due to the treatments, then immediately consult your doctor. You can manage the minor ones with prescribed medications. Hospitalisation may become necessary if the side-effects are severe such as dehydration due to vomiting or diarrhoea, abdominal pain or bowel obstruction.


Ovarian cancer prevention

Since there are no known causes or risk factors for ovarian cancer, even preventive measures become hard to determine. However, some preventions include:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Follow a good lifestyle
  • Avoid hormone replacement therapy
  • Stop smoking
  • Hysterectomy


If you have a family history of breast and ovarian cancer or a hereditary mutation, you must visit your doctor for advice. Generally, in such cases, the doctor suggests hysterectomy after 30-35 years of age once your family is complete. Surgical removal of your ovaries and uterus can prevent you from getting ovarian cancer in the future. But it is a personal choice.


FAQs about ovarian cancer

Can I become pregnant after ovarian cancer?

Usually, the doctor prefers removing both the ovaries and the uterus even when only one ovary is affected. It is because there is a chance of recurrence of cancer in the other ovary as well. If the woman wishes to bear a child, she may be able to, but it will depend on several factors. The type of ovarian cancer, stage and spread of the disease, involvement of the other ovary and uterus are the deciding factors for fertility preservation.

 If the cancer is detected at an early stage and only one ovary is involved, the doctor will spare the other ovary and the uterus until she conceives. But once she gives birth, the other ovary and the uterus need to be surgically removed to prevent the disease from recurring. Egg freezing may also be an option one ovary is affected and there was an early diagnosis.

However, if the disease has graduated to the later stages, fertility preservation may not be possible. Your doctor will be able to guide you based on your condition.

Will ovarian cancer affect my menstrual cycle?

If the doctor surgically removes both the ovaries, it will result in menopause.

Can ovarian cancer happen more than once?

Yes, ovarian cancer may recur. However, it is possible to treat it too.


Should I be concerned if I have an ovarian cyst?

Ovarian cysts are common, but the majority of them are benign. Generally, these cysts collapse on their own after a while. They do not need to be removed unless they are huge or causing alarming symptoms. In case a cyst is detected, there is no need to panic. Visit your gynaecologist to evaluate it further.


Can an ovarian cyst become cancerous?

Ovarian cysts would rarely become cancerous later. Hence, if you have an ovarian cyst, it does not increase your chances of getting ovarian cancer.


Are there any screening tests available for ovarian cancer?

There are no screening tests available to detect ovarian cancer early. However, you should go for regular health checkups.


Bottom line

The lifetime risk for ovarian cancer is one in every 75 women. With no screening tests or other possible ways to prevent ovarian cancer, the least you can do is go for regular health checkups. Women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancers should especially be careful, as that puts them at a higher risk. With enough support from family and friends, medications and cancer treatments, it is possible to recover from ovarian cancer even when detected at the later stages.



Disclaimer : This information is provided for educational purposes and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare practitioners before undertaking any changes in your diet or adding supplements.

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